When I was first grappling with the whole concept of writing seriously for publication, I felt I had to be a writing slut. Or as much of a slut as possible when writing Good Clean Fun. Any call for writing for kids, and I was there, putting out my prose, enticing the editors to pick up my manuscript and have their way with it.
I figured short story creds were a quick way to plump up the bio. But... every call for short stories for kids had a limit of 500 words. Damn! How can you arrange 500 words in a manner that tells a satisfying story?
Horses for courses. I figured I was a middle-distance runner. Five hundred word sprints? Fughedabout it. Fifty thousand word marathons? Uh-huh. My range was between 7 and 20K - chapter books and earlier MG stories, and that was that. I could see it was limiting my market potential. Some ideas for stories might be more suitable for an older audience, but there was no way I could top 50K. So that was that.
But since I was hungry for some publications, my first goal was to tackle the sprint. Forcing myself to squeeze a story to a 500 word limit was one of the best writery things I'd done. It didn't come easy. Firstly, I had to tell a story in a single scene. I learnt this after writing a few 500 word three-act stories. They were the written equivalent of "I'm on a boat - now I'm on a horse" minus the eye candy. They were like a movie shot with a hand-held camera. Jumpy and disjointed (better analogy). It was unfair on multi-scene narratives to force them into 500 words.
Telling a story within a single scene was actually easier than expected, but these scenes tended to be longer than 500 words, often topping 1000. Solution? Get the writing scythe. And I edited. And cut and pruned. I made tough decisions about what I actually needed to say. The finished story flowed far more smoothly within its 500 word boundary.
There have been two rewards.
Firstly, I have produced a total of 5 short stories of less than 500 words, three of which were accepted for publication. The two rejected ones were stories I knew were weaker (perhaps poorly resolved) and even when complete, I knew they weren’t quite right. But I hit the send button in a moment of recklessness.
Nevertheless, I had met my goal and attained some pub creds.
Secondly, my writing is tighter as a result of such discipline. I now write my novels as a series of (up to) 500 word scenes. Sure, it’s an arbitrary number, but it keeps me on my toes. Each makes a contribution to the story. I view them as a single step. Some require considerably less than 500 words to tell their piece, and that’s ok. A few get linked into a chapter – and with more editing, the 5 x 500 word structure gets hidden. And my stories are getting longer.
My next goal is to link more to write a marathon! - I'll letcha know when I'm done.